Treasury minister skips pre-budget photo citing agoraphobia

Simon Clarke says condition ‘prevents me being comfortable in some open spaces’

Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury, has said he would not take part in the traditional pre-budget photo with the chancellor as he is agoraphobic. He said the condition “prevents me being comfortable in some open spaces”.

His colleagues appeared without him on the front step of No 11 Downing Street after Clarke tweeted a photograph of himself indoors in Downing Street standing alongside Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and explained why he was due to be absent.

Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help would not be available if things go wrong, according to the NHS. It can be a fear of open spaces, travelling on public transport, visiting certain places or leaving home.

Clarke tweeted: “Really looking forward to explaining the budget and SR [spending review] alongside the chancellor. I won’t be outside for the photos in Downing Street as I live with agoraphobia – which prevents me being comfortable in some open spaces – but will be busy in parliament and out in the country over the coming days.

“Today is all about a major moment for the UK and we have an important story to tell about investment in our public services and infrastructure, economic recovery, levelling up and net zero – those are the issues I’m proud to be discussing today.”

Rishi Sunak and colleagues
Rishi Sunak and colleagues, minus Clarke, outside No 11 Downing Street. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Clarke was previously a local government minister and resigned in 2020 citing personal reasons understood to relate to his family life. Before that post, the Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland was exchequer secretary to the Treasury.

Clarke received support from fellow Tory MPs for his honesty about his condition. Chris Clarkson, the MP for Heywood and Middleton, said: “Colleagues don’t need to see him in a photo to know what an important contribution he’s made to this budget and our country’s recovery from the pandemic.”

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Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

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